Plan and avoid pitfalls as you plant your way to veggies

This article is a compilation of Altum’s gardener, Karen Thacker’s personal journey to build her first raised garden bed and begin her very first vegetable garden. An adventure she began in the spring of 2013 and continues to this day. Follow Karen as she grows and shares in her Vegging Out journal series

It’s hard to believe that I’ve worked at Altum’s for 18 years and still feel a little intimidated by vegetable gardening.

In 2013, I decided to take a journey and build a raised garden bed with Altum’s help. I’ll be following the directions we hand out every day and using the products we recommend. With a little hard work, I hope to feed my family of four with our backyard bounty.

Being new to vegetable gardening, I am starting small so I can have the best chance for success.  I will be making a 4’x4’ raised bed out of 2”x12” lumber. To fill your raised bed, Altum’s recommends using an equal mixture of compost (any combination of soil amendment, mushroom compost, cow manure and/or organic garden soil), vermiculite and peat moss. That’s what I did  last year when I started my raised garden bed. But for the ultra-easy version that will save you steps and time, check out Square Foot Garden Soil. Everything you need is already inside, no mixing!

So here’s your raised garden bed shopping list:

easy option

  • 4 @ 4ft lengths of 2×12 wood*
  • heavy-duty deck screws (twice as long as thickness of the wood)
  • a weed mat
  • chicken wire (optional)

* you can find a weed mat at your local garden center. The rest of the supplies can be found at your local hardware store.

As well as:

easy option

  • 2.2 cubic ft peat moss
  • 5 cubic ft compost mix
  • 4 cubic ft vermiculite  -OR-

easiest option

  • 14 bags of premixed Square Foot Garden Soil (in place of compost mix, vermiculite and peat moss)

Other materials you may need:

  • tape measure
  • spade
  • drill, screwdriver
  • pitchfork

* Did you know  you can ask to have lumber cut for you? I purchased a 2x12x12 board and had it cut into 4ft lengths, making it easier to transport.

Getting Started

1) Make Space

Decide where you want your raised garden bed to sit in your yard. Consider exposure to be a fairly sunny spot with a bit of afternoon shade and keeping your bed close to a door. That way you’ll be close enough to keep an eye on it and pop in and out for a few minutes of weed pulling or the fun of a mini harvest.

Once you’ve decided on your space, use a spade or shovel to dig out strips of sod to accommodate the outline of your 4×4 bed. You don’t need to remove all the sod, just the outline where the wood will sit to give it a steady, even base.

2) A Flat Surface

I recommend putting your garden box together on a flat surface like your driveway or garage floor so you don’t twist or warp the boards. You might think that putting it together in the yard where it will eventually live would make the most sense. But even small dips or a slightly uneven surface will make your job much harder.

3) Work Counterclockwise

raised garden bed step 1

I started by placing one board on top of the end of another to create a 90-degree angle then pre-drilling holes for four heavy-duty deck screws. I worked counterclockwise, adding another board and 90-degree angle to create my square. Here’s mine raised garden bed assembled on my garage floor.

That’s as far as I got in one afternoon, but you could easily complete this project in a day.

4) Lay Down Chicken Wire

This is an optional step, but one I’d recommend. By covering the area beneath your plants, you’ll be protecting them from garden moles, voles and mice that can tunnel under your plants and nibble away.

5) Add a Weed Barrier

raised garden bed step 2

This organic weed barrier is a heavy paper that stops weeds and decomposes naturally into the soil.

You can also try newspaper or thin sheets of cardboard.

Lay this right over your chicken wire, then lay your 4×4 raised bed framework over the top.

6) Mix your soil

bags of dirt for a raised garden bedraised garden bed step 2

I found a pitchfork worked best to mix  2 bags of Altum’s Soil Amendment, and 1 bag of mushroom compost for my organic matter, plus vermiculite and peat moss.

The All New Square Foot Gardening book recommends laying a tarp on the ground and mixing your soil there. Easier said than done. I would recommend dumping all of your soil contents right in your raised bed and mixing there.

You can also skip this step and use pre-mixed Square Foot Garden Soil.

7) Give your roots some food

Before I planted my first crop, I added Root Rally from Age Old Organics to my raised garden bed.  Here’s the fancy scientific explanation of the benefits:

A complete blend of Endo-and Ecto-mycorrhizae spores with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. The inoculants provide mycorrhizae life support for trees, shrubs, flowers, fruits and vegetables. Applied to the plant’s root system this 100% premium organic blend will reduce transplant shock, encourage root growth and increase water and nutrient uptake.

root rally natural and organic fertilizer

My explanation? This product makes it easier for the roots to absorb the vitamins and nutrients in the soil that it needs to grow. Healthy roots, healthy plants.

Just discovered that Peter Rabbit may be living under my deck so I think I’ll need to put up some kind of barrier soon. Something you may want to consider, too.

Here’s to eating lots of delicious salads this season!